6 Tips to Have a Productive Doctor’s Visit if You Have Sciatica

With many consultations lasting 15 minutes or less, an appointment with your doctor to discuss your sciatica symptoms and treatment options can feel like a race against time.

To help you make the most of your time with your doctor—and help you find pain relief as soon as possible—here are 6 insights and tips:

See What You Need to Know About Sciatica

the path of the sciatic nerve Most cases of sciatica are caused by an underlying lower-back disorder.
Learn More:
The Truth About Sciatica

1. Find a sciatica specialist with extended appointments

  • Some spine specialists offer extended appointment times, even as long as 1 hour. A few doctors call this “concierge” service, and others offer extended times because that’s how they want to practice medicine.
  • You are rarely bound to a single specialist, so feel free to shop around for someone who offers extended appointments. To find out if a specialist offers more time for appointments in your area, peruse the websites of various specialists or talk with your primary care doctor.

See How to Select a Spine Surgeon

Article continues below

2. Write down your medical history to save time during your appointment

The list of medical history questions is pretty standard—if you write out your answers beforehand you can answer them quickly and accurately. This has two possible benefits for you: (1) You’ll likely provide more accurate and complete information, which in turn may lead to a more accurate diagnosis; (2) you’ll save time during the appointment, giving you and your doctor more time to discuss and evaluate your treatment options.

Here’s a list of common questions relating to sciatica to help you prepare:

  • Do your symptoms extend below the knee?
  • Do you have foot drop or any other neurological symptoms?
  • How would you describe your symptoms—is the pain throbbing, searing, or electrical-like?
  • Do you feel better in a reclining position? Does bending forward make your symptoms better (may be spinal stenosis) or worse (may be a herniated disc)?

3. Bring a friend to your sciatica appointment

  • If your pain is severe it may be difficult to concentrate. Bringing a friend to your appointment to take notes can allow you to focus on the conversation with your doctor without having to worry that you may forget something he or she said later on.
  • A friend can also help you prioritize your discussion topics and ensure that you don’t forget to talk with your doctor about an important matter.

See Preparing to Meet with a Spine Surgeon or Spine Specialist

4. Consider an online consultation

  • The first diagnosis or treatment plan you receive for your sciatica doesn’t have to be the final word. One option for a second opinion is an online consultation.
  • Online consultations are conducted from the convenience of your home, and you can typically upload any relevant forms or images.
  • There are obvious drawbacks, of course, and many feel that a doctor needs to physically examine you in order to offer the best advice.

See Myths About Sciatica Treatment Options

Seated Hamstring StretchMost cases of sciatica can be resolved without surgery, using physical therapy and/or exercise instead.
Seated Chair Hamstring Stretch for Sciatica Relief Video

5. Record your functionality

  • Keep a notebook or phone handy to identify any activities that may be difficult for you over the course of a week.
  • Be open and honest about anything you find difficult. Activities like using the restroom might feel embarrassing to talk about, but don’t worry—your doctor has heard it all.
  • If your sciatica symptoms prevent you from fulfilling basic tasks—such as daily work obligations or caring for your children—you may want to consider surgical options with your medical professional. Surgery is sometimes the best way to feel better quicker.

6. Learn the vocab ahead of time

Sciatica is a lay term that describes the set of symptoms that originate with a lumbar nerve problem in your lower back and travel down your sciatic nerve—the nerve in the back of your leg. There are many terms associated with sciatica, and learning the vocabulary ahead of time is something that will help you save time and avoid confusion during your consultation.

See What You Need to Know About Sciatica

  • Lumbar radiculopathy (also radicular pain): the medical term used to refer to sciatica.
  • Underlying conditions: sciatica is not a medical diagnosis, but rather the symptom of an underlying medical disorder.
  • Neuropathic pain: the abnormal transmissions or impulses a pinched nerve sends to your brain to alert it of injury.

Know when to seek immediate help

Rarely, sciatica symptoms may require immediate surgery. As a general rule, if you have worsening neurological symptoms, if neurological symptoms occur in both legs, if you have bladder or bowel incontinence, or if symptoms occur after an accident or trauma you should seek immediate medical attention.

See When Sciatica Pain Is a Medical Emergency

Final thoughts

I hope all of the above advice will help you have a more efficient and productive consultation with your doctor, which in turn will lead to a quicker path to healing.

Learn More:

Sciatica First Aid

Physical Therapy and Exercise for Sciatica

Post written by Andrew Moeller